The "Working in Ghana" Project

Civil Engineer

[Mr. Abingya, in his mid-forties, is a certified engineer with a construction company that builds houses and constructs roads. He holds a diploma in mechanical engineering. Mr. Abingya resides in a suburb of Accra with his family of six, including 4 children. The family occupies a nearly completed house; it was there that Ebenezer Mensah spoke with him in the Twi language.]

I am the plant engineer of a private construction company that builds houses on a contract basis. We also build and re-grade roads of all types. I have been with this company for two years.

I am in charge of all the plant and equipment of the company. Being a construction company, we have huge caterpillar tractors and bulldozers, dump trucks and other hydraulic mechanisms that are used for metal work. As the engineer of this company I make sure that all the machines and equipment are in good condition. I and my able assistants work tirelessly to maintain and service all the caterpillars and earth moving equipment that the company uses for its construction work.

Sometimes the machines break down at the work site. I have to go to the site with some men to repair it. The company has its head office here in Accra plus two branch offices elsewhere in Ghana.

I make trips to these offices and the work sites to see that the plant and equipment are in good condition. I have site technicians who handle minor problems with the machines but when the problem is above them I am called to solve it. I spend at least one month at one branch office and about a week at the other.

Most of the problems occur when we are constructing a new road. The company is making a new road just now. The machines get broken down within short periods after their maintenance. Sometimes superstition is used to explain why this happens. People tell me that the gods at that locality are not happy about the roads we are constructing. We are made to perform sacrifices at several areas before we continue. I believe that the reason is purely the difficult nature of the environment. As Africans we tend to believe some of these sayings. It is surprising to note that after performing such sacrifices we experience less problems of broken down machines and equipment.

Most of the contracts on roads are given to the company by the government and the district or regional administrations. On the building of houses, we take contracts from both the government and individuals or private companies.

I like working as an engineer because I face several challenges that I may not come across in engineering textbooks. But with closer investigation I gain a lot of experience in handling such difficulties. Again, I am not located at a particular workshop. I have the opportunity to visit other areas around the countryside where the company is finishing contracts. This gives me some satisfaction.

What is frustrating is not getting the needed spare parts when an important machine breaks down. The whole operation can come to a standstill. Everybody looks to the plant engineer to repair the fault for the job to start.

When I am in Accra, I start work at 7:00 am in the morning and close at 5:30 pm in the evening. When I am outside Accra, for example at a camp site where a construction job is being undertaken, I could work from morning until very late in the night; especially in areas where a new road is being constructed. We sometimes work in the night at such job sites. Sometimes when equipment is broken down I have to attend to it at night so that the job can be carried out and completed on time.

Such periods are very frustrating. I miss my family for weeks and months. Sometimes, the money I leave at home is not enough to see my family throughout my stay at the site. I leave home with the intention of coming back by a week's time but problems at a site may cause me to stay on for more than a month. This happened about a year ago when we took a job at Cape Coast. I left a scant amount of money at home for the upkeep of my family thinking that I would return after three days. I ended up spending over two months at Cape Coast due to rampant machine problems. I did not have any fast and reliable means of sending money to my family in Accra. I had no peace of mind throughout the two months' absence from my family.

I face a lot of hazards when working on the machines. Working with hydraulic systems is dangerous. The system might fall at a time you have not moved the button. This normally happens when the hydraulic develops a fault. You may be killed or wounded when that occurs. Again, you may jack a machine up to work under it. If the soil is loose, the machine's weight might cause the earth under it to give way leading it to fall. It can crush you to death. At the sites, mosquito bites and untreated water can cause the whole work crew to fall sick.

Apart from this, most of the jobs we do for the government are not paid promptly. The company as a result goes bankrupt to the point that we cannot get money to pay our salaries, let alone pay for the huge gas, oil, and material lost. Such conditions make the whole job quite frustrating and difficult. Salaries and wages pile up into thousands of cedis while workers and laborers complain for weeks before we realize something to defray our costs.

I am working with very industrious workers who make my job much easier. In fact, I make sure that anyone who does something that I dislike is bought to book (reprimanded). I normally make friends and establish good relationships with my co-workers and subordinates. The nature of our job is such that if you keep so many things in your heart you may die as a result of anger against someone. We cooperate to solve all the machine problems that come to us. If you give somebody the indication that you hate him, he might set a machine wrongly which could result in your death. Or you may be frustrated by a worker who would remove an unsuspected part of a vital machine so that you would get so tired before solving that problem. It is very dangerous to show an uncooperative attitude towards any of the work crew.

Left to the company alone, I would have been more than satisfied with my salary but the nonpayment of jobs executed for the government and other government establishments makes higher payments impossible. Presently I am paid a half pay of about 35,000 cedis (then, about $70) a month. Sometimes there is not even enough money to be paid this amount.

I have a company vehicle at my disposal which I use for my duties. I was even working on it when you came for this interview.

There is a guild for certified engineers but I have decided not to join them because they are so expensive. Given my present financial standing, I cannot join them.

My job keeps me from my family a lot of times. But there is nothing I can do to solve this problem. I hope that with time they will learn to live with this situation. I have also been missing fellowship with a Christian businessmen's association. I am a member of a local chapter, but normally I miss their breakfast meetings. But I am not so much bothered about it because they know why I don't attend.